April 11, 2011

China’s Soft Power: Is a soft power war possible in Latin America?

Given China’s potential for growth in hard and soft power, it is vital that the US, in particular, be cognizant of Chinese public diplomacy efforts. Scholars agree, that in the case of China, that means evaluating China’s soft power. Maria Wey-Shen Siow, "Chinese Domestic Debates on Soft Power and Public Diplomacy," argues that the debate about soft power fluctuates somewhat between two bipolar extremes. She writes,
“On one hand there is immense domestic pride in Chinese growth and the historical depth of Chinese civilization. On the other hand, there is a tremendous awareness of China’s inadequacy in effectively communicating Chinese development as benign, and this has, in part, resulted in a sense of inferiority.”

While scholars argue about whether or not China is currently changing its image in a positive way, one thing is for certain, China is trying to spread its soft power in Latin America to widen its global reach and deepen its importance in other markets. Executing what R. Evan Ellis calls “modest influence”, China’s rise in Latin America has the potential to create competition and serious tension with the US. Spreading the Chinese notions of development and communism, China poses a threat to the US monopoly in the region. At the same time, however, there are limits to Chinese soft power. The language and cultural barrier is rather vast. Furthermore, the region also has ties to “India, Russia, Iran, and others” which is diluting China’s importance. Will this lead to a soft power war? Time will only tell how relations in the regions will develop given that the other state actors in the region also have similar cultural and language barriers.

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